51% of U.S. Dairy Workers Immigrants; Deporting Illegals Could Raise Milk Price 45%

Texas A&M reports that the majority of America’s dairy workers are immigrants:

Nearly 77,000 immigrants worked on dairy farms in 2014 out of about 150,000 employees nationwide, according to a Texas A&M study for the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

The study, which updates an earlier survey, indicates that the number of immigrants working on dairy farms rose by about 35 percent in six years.

Dairy farms that employ immigrant workers now account for 79 percent of all U.S. milk production [Philip Brasher, “Dairy Farmers Increase Reliance on Immigrant Labor,” Agri-Pulse, 2015.09.09].

Only 33.7% of dairies use immigrant labor, but those dairies are the larger dairies that produce more of America’s milk.

The Texas A&M survey shows that the average dairy farm wage is $11.34 an hour. They average 54 hours per week. Add non-wage benefits, and dairy workers are drawing an average $34,443 a year. At dairies that hire immigrants, the average wage is $11.69 an hour and the average total compensation is $35,538. That slight advantage could refute Donald Trump’s assertion that immigrants are “taking our jobs“: having to pay higher wages indicates that dairy owners are compensating for a lack of local labor. The researchers suggest that the slightly higher pay could reflect more experience and skill among immigrant workers. But that compensation advantage could simply reflect the deeper pockets of the larger dairy companies that rely more on immigrant labor, as well as the possibility that dairies relying on immigrants may more often provide company housing, which would inflate the value of total compensation. (54.5% of respondent dairies offer housing to workers; the survey did not break that amount down by immigrant-reliant dairies vs. non-immigrant-reliant.)

As we discussed last April, 50 percent to 70 percent of the country’s agricultural workers may be here illegally. Dairy farmers hiring immigrants are not blind to that possibility:

Farmers revealed a low to medium level of confidence in the employment documents of the immigrant employees at their dairies with 38.9 percent indicating a low level of confidence and 32.1 percent indicating a medium level of confidence…. As a result, a majority of dairy farmers indicated that they had a relatively high level of concern with respect to actions such as raids or employee audits [Flynn Adcock, David Anderson, and Parr Rosson, “The Economic Impacts of Immigrant Labor on U.S. Dairy Farms,” Center for North American Studies, Texas A&M University, prepared under contract for National Milk Producers Federation, August 2015].

But do the National Milk Producers want the feds to crack down on illegal immigration à la Trump? Heck, no! If an audit of employment documents deprived the dairy industry of half of its immigrant labor force (and the Texas A&M survey avoids mentioning the term “illegal” in its economic analysis), we’d seriously upset the cheese cart:

Deport half of those immigrant dairy workers, shut down 6% of our dairies, reduce milk production 12%, and raise milk prices 45.2%. Double those numbers, and you get the net impact of that immigrant dairy workforce.

The dairy industry uses this information to bang a drum we’ve heard before: they want Congress to reform immigration policy now!

“This report reinforces the urgent need for Congress to address” immigration reform, said Jim Mulhern, NMPF’s president and chief executive officer.

“Farms that rely on hired foreign workers need their current labor force as well as an effective program to ensure an adequate future workforce. And the way to do that is to enact comprehensive immigration reform” [Brasher, 2015.09.09].

Hmm, I wonder if any of those Syrian refugees would like to come work at South Dakota’s dairies. Syria’s dairy industry grew significantly in the last generation. Syrian dairies, like the rest of the economy amidst civil war and ISIS madness, has suffered serious losses in the last few years, so it wouldn’t be surprising to find a few dairy experts among those refugees that some South Dakotans are afraid to take in. I’ll bet big dairy would love to invite some of those expert refugees into our I-29 dairy corridor.

We can build Trump’s wall, or we can have cheaper milk. According to the immigrant-reliant dairy industry, we can’t have both.

16 Responses to 51% of U.S. Dairy Workers Immigrants; Deporting Illegals Could Raise Milk Price 45%

  1. Douglas Wiken

    Cows will get milked without illegal aliens. Dairies are not going to let cows go dry and then sell them for hamburger.

  2. Ruptured udders.

  3. Roger Elgersma

    I grew up on a small dairy in Minnesota, 22 cows, and worked on a dairy in the state of Washington, 300 cows, when I was young. The biggest problem the large dairies had was labor. If the milker quit without notice the cows got milked late that day. On a small dairy the worker is average age of about sixty and has a lot of experience and will be there on time. So if we got rid of the illegals, the price of milk would go up a little and more sons would stay on the farm and we would have more family farms and less factory farms.

  4. bearcreekbat

    Labeling our fellow human beings as “illegals” creates an image of men, women and children that makes it easier for modern no-nothings and xenophobics to spew hatred and prejudice. Language affects thinking and using such a derogatory term to describe someone working in the dairy industry is a means to triggers the reptilian feelings of fear and anger.

    A substantial portion of immigrants are folks who entered the country lawfully and have overstayed their visa or other authority to be here. That conduct is not even a crime.


    Thus, calling these folks “illegals” is inaccurate as well as diminishing their humanity.

  5. I dispute the inaccuracy: 50% is a documentable estimate, and perhaps a low estimate of the percentage of that immigrant workforce has violated immigration law to come work here. The milk price increase comes from the Texas A&M report, which does a better job than I of avoiding the offending term, since the folks paying for the report have a keen interest in getting Congress to pass legislation without thinking about the illegal activity that many dairy owners are engaged in.

  6. …besides, “Violators of U.S. Immigration Law” makes for a much clunkier headline. ;-)

  7. Roger, I am intrigued by the notion that reliance on immigrant labor has hurt small family farms. The big CAFO dairies squeeze small competitors by their very business model, whether they are hiring domestic or foreign workers. I infer from the numbers in the report above that large dairies are much more likely to rely on that immigrant labor. Is the work at a large CAFO dairy much different from the work at a small dairy? The hours are long, the work is grueling at both, right?

  8. The United States, France and the UK ignored a peace deal brokered by Russia to end the Syrian catastrophe. So the three countries should take the refugees without question. A third here and and the rest to the other smart guys. That way, the cows get milked and maybe we would learn a lesson. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/15/west-ignored-russian-offer-in-2012-to-have-syrias-assad-step-aside?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

  9. President Obama describes it best and it is high time we all heed those words.

    “This whole anti-immigrant sentiment that’s out there in our politics right now is contrary to who we are. Because unless you are a Native American, your family came from someplace else,” Mr. Obama said. “Don’t pretend that somehow 100 years ago the immigration process was all smooth and strict. That’s not how it worked.” The grandparents and great-grandparents of politicians taking a hard line on immigration, he said, were also “somehow considered unworthy or uneducated or unwashed.”
    “When I hear folks talking as if somehow these kids are different from my kids or less worthy in the eyes of God, that somehow they are less worthy of our respect and consideration and care, I think that’s un-American,” Mr. Obama said.

    Immigrants are us all, one way or another, we are all immigrants. We even maybe of Native blood, but the other blood that drives through our veins, is pure immigrant, legal or whatever, unless you are full blood and even then, is up for debate.

  10. bearcreekbat

    Accurate? If you lump 50 people who crossed the border illegally, which is a crime, together with 50 people who who crossed the border lawfully but then overstayed their welcome, which is not a crime, how can it be accurate to call all of 100 of these people illegals? That would like taking 50 atheists and 50 evangelicals and calling all 100 either godless or god-fearing.

    The more important point, however, is by using the term “illegals,” whether technically accurate or not we needlessly demean other human beings. And writing a difficult headline seems a weak excuse for using such demeaning language.

  11. mike from iowa

    If you put six or seven immigrants in a room with Trump,you would have seven or eight billionaires(on average) in one room. Then wingnuts wouldn’t dare refer to them as illegals. They’d be wingnut’s brown-skinned brothers.

  12. I cannot even begin to imagine sons and daughters staying on at the family dairy to milk the cows twice a day. They grew up in that environment so they know how hard it is first hand. That is why they get educated and leave as there is not enough money there to support another family. Maybe if they choose to not get married and not have any kids, then that would be different. However, if that would be the case, then when the sons and daughters died, who would milk ole Bessie and the rest?

    If you want to get the idea of what the real price of that milk, try making your own butter or real ice cream. Without our tax dollars paying the subsidy, the milk would already be double in cost even with undocumented labor. I wonder if the Farm Bill subsidies were considered in the study.

  13. When my brother in law was 13 years old, he was brought from Mexico to work on a ranch in Arizona. He was promised by a coyote a 10 hour shift, a comfortable bed and good working conditions for great pay that he could send home to his family.

    Being a young man trying to help his mom and siblings who were abandoned by his father, it was a dream come true. He came over into the US illegally thinking all their problems would go away. Instead, he found his job would be 20 hour days, he was injected with drugs to keep him awake, slept on what amounts to a barn floor with 30 other boys/ young men. And the small portion of his pay the coyote let him keep he sent home to his mom.

    When he was 16 he contacted his aunt who was born and raised in the US, now living in NE. She helped him get a bus ticket to move to NE/IA.

    A couple years later, he met and fell in love with my sister and they now have 4 girls. But when he applied for his immigration status, they denied him because he’d been living in the US for more than 5 years illegally.

    So he moved to Mexico while he waited for his hardship waiver to be approved. My sister took her babies to live with him in Mexico. But the conditions were horrible. So our family helped her get her life in order without him.

    He finally got approved after thousands of dollars in fines and fees, years apart from his wife and girls.

    He risked his life coming here for a better life to help his mom and family. He knew what he was doing was illegal but he was desperate.

    I’ve been to visit where he’s from and the conditions look like a third world, not what I expected right across our nation’s border. He is a hard worker and he learned English.

    But he made a bad decision when he was young and he had to pay for it for a very long time.

    That ranch is still in operation, they still lure young Mexican boys/men to the US and these boys keep coming.

  14. Good for your brother in law and shame on us for allowing the mistreatment of our fellows. In the end, one has to ask themselves what is the use of a border in the first place. That line in the sand that was stolen in the first place. There is a simple solution that your brother in law already knows and that is the drug appetite that Americans have for illegal substance that causes so much lawlessness in Mexico and beyond. There is also another one, go and check out the price of produce down at your local market. It is sky high, so now, most of it comes from Mexico. Kind of ironic in an ironic way. The folks that are here now are some of the most law abiding citizens we have. Of course, there are bad apples in every cart, just like the homegrown ones we presently have here now.

  15. bearcreekbat

    Rita, thanks for telling your brother-in-law’s story. It helps put a human face and story of love in the picture in place of the evil criminals the anti-immigration crowd imagines and fears.

  16. Thank you Rita for your BIL’s story. We can only guess how many people have the same one.
    This post is just about the dairy industry, but think how many more industries are involved. For 3 years I worked for a large US egg and chicken production company, and believe me, it will not be any different. How do you educate people how deep this goes and the effects it will have in the US. Most of the “illegals” have lead crime free and productive lives. Most of our ancestors came here for the same reasons as these immigrants, but some seem to have short memories, although most of us were European….Hummm yes, that seems to be a problem.